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Friday, 29 September 2017

To the future James, and don't spare the horses.

This morning I was listening to the always excellent This Day in Music Radio podcast, and thoroughly enjoying their James piece, when Tim Booth mentioned heritage bands.
It’s not a term I had heard before, but it struck a chord.
He was talking about how the music business sees his band as a heritage one, and reading between the lines possibly irrelevant.
This was something that he obviously vehemently disagrees with. And of course he is right.
James are not known for resting on their laurels, or for working up a lather as they flog a dead horse.
By dint of their talent they are as relevant now as they were when they first grabbed the attention of music lovers in the eighties.
Always fresh, always moving forward, they are an act that will at some point deservedly be classed as hall of fame material if we in the UK had such a thing.

But to get to the heritage band point, to my understanding that would be one that no longer records and just tour a best of package.
Or if they do release new material it is lacking in any momentum and the recording is approached with the intent of touching base with past glories rather than forging forward in any sense.
That is a heritage act.
In other words, the polar opposite of what James are all about.

And then with the thoughts of who are, and aren’t, heritage bands swirling around in my head I started thinking about the popularity of the anniversary tours that are very fashionable at the moment, and the reissues of classic albums.
Both have their place and it would be churlish to have a dig as the response to both show that they are in many ways what people want, but a whispering nagging voice keeps intruding and asking questions such as ‘but what happens when the attention is driven away from all of the new material?’

The answer isn’t too difficult to reach. We all lose out.

It is a problem that the industry doesn’t seem to be interested in supporting new talent; or that of bands with a long history that keep forging forward, but it is a bigger problem if we, the public, follow suit. Because then we become complicit in the music business eating its own tail.
If the majority gravitate towards the past then there is no future.
Is that too harsh a take on it though?
I am not alone in championing new music, or artists that keep knocking it out of the park with fresh material regardless of how old they are, but this minority voice is not one that carries much weight.
I have to be honest with myself and admit that.
And while the solution isn’t really in my grasp, it is within that of all of us if we collectively reach out for it.
All we have to do is just engage with music again. It sounds very simple doesn’t it? And that’s because it is.
We can still get out there and see the big bands of yesteryear, but maybe we should all up our game and slip in a club sized gig now and then too, or how about picking up the album of the band whose one song you heard and loved. Baby steps really.
Unfortunately that does take a bit of effort though, and yeah, “give me convenience or give me death” etcetera, but the returns could very well make it all worthwhile.
By making that bit more of an effort we can all contribute to a future generation enjoying the classic hits of a band that are just forming, or even add to the longevity of the artists who refuse to find themselves so deep in a rut that all they can ever do is shout out their hits from the depths of it.

So being part of the solution isn’t really that bad an option when you consider the alternative.

And here’s a place to start. The Duncan Reid & The Big Heads gig in Nice N Sleazy (Glasgow) that I have arranged for next week. (A cheeky wink should be inserted here)

Promoting his third album they will provide a best of both worlds set, as alongside their hits of tomorrow, there will be a sprinkling of a few songs from his past with The Boys. See what I mean by best of both worlds.  
And along for the ride will be up and comers Heavy Drapes who in a previous incarnation opened for Bowies Tin Machine and The New York Dolls amongst others. A prime example of how you can teach old dogs new tricks.
And if that is just too much new material to deal with there will be 3 Minute Heroes running through plenty of punk and power pop hits to help provide the link between the old and the new.  

Something for everyone really so let’s keep the tracks greased, and if you can’t attend this gig then please do consider attending another over the next week or two. 
Go on and dip your toe in. Very often the water is lovely and there is a great deal more out there than just heritage bands, which have their place too, but don’t do anything for all our tomorrows.

I guess the point is that we should ask not what the artists can do for us, but what we can do for them.  

Friday, 22 September 2017

GUN - Acoustic in-store (HMV)

All cities have one street, or road, that is arterial in nature.
It’s the one that pumps the majority of inhabitants and visitors from A to B, or C, or wherever they need to be.
It is to all intents and purposes the cities beating heart.
In Glasgow people often cite Sauchiehall Street as such, but for those who live in the city, or frequent it often, we all know that it is really Argyle Street.
It’s where you canny shove yer granny from a bus, and if you have a talent for it you could maybe launch a jeely piece from the nineteenth floor of a tower block, and just manage to have it land there; although that is doubtful, but never the less it is the very real heart of Glasgow.
Cutting through the centre of the city it is Argyle Street that never sleeps, it never misses a beat, rarely slows down, and it is rare to see anyone standing stationary for more than five minutes, unless of course it is the living statue artists that have sprung up over the last few years.

And yet there are always exceptions to the rule, and Friday the fifteenth of September was one as around 5pm you would have witnessed a small crowd of GUN fans throwing the gauntlet down in competition with the living statues as we congregated outside the HMV store.
The reason for being there was of course to participate in watching the band perform the first of a run of acoustic instore dates arranged to celebrate and promote the release of their latest album ‘Favourite Pleasures’.

This appearance was hot on the heels of their gig in St Lukes from the previous night - a show that lit the fuse on fans rushing to social media to share how good the boys were - and an instore that was an opportunity for people like me that couldn’t attend to grab a second chance with both hands.

Waiting was in fact no great hardship, the weather was fine, (yeah really) the company congenial, and the time sprinted past as we spent it chatting with other fans about gigs attended, and those that we are planning to attend.

It wasn’t too long before we found ourselves picking up the gauntlet that we had foolishly cast down to the living statues (hey, they are professionals after all), and instead threw in the towel as the staff gave the signal that we could enter the store. Filtering past other shoppers we slipped downstairs and filled the spaces between the racks and looked to get the best vantage point of the stage that was set up adjacent to where the cashiers would be.
Managing to get front and centre, the benefits of turning up early, it wasn’t long before the band arrived and took their positions, all of them looking far fresher than any bunch of rockers have any right to when it is the early evening after the night before, and then with a little bit of banter between themselves they kicked off with Tragic Heroes, and with that they reasserted that they aren’t going anywhere. Arguably they never were anyway.
It was as we here in Scotland are apt to say 'straight out of the gates and no messing'. This was GUN in all their glory.
I've said it before, but it is worth repeating that while so many bands are seemingly happy to revisit past glories, and little else, it is GUN who are bucking the nostalgia trend and confidently proclaiming that there’s plenty of fuel left in their tank.
Pre release of the album the tracks shared with the public ably illustrated that they are looking forward rather than back and Tragic Heroes is an appropriate calling card to start the set off to remind everyone of this.

Silent Lovers followed, and acoustically it sounded like the Clash with the heavy beat of the bass dominating, but as everyone else started contributing the song burst free from the chains of the past and took flight. Two songs in and the confidence in the Favourite Pleasures material was very obvious. When they sat down to decide what to add to the set list they had plenty of fan favourites to pick from, and yet here they were measuring the new songs up and considering them either as worthy to play, or maybe more so, than much of their back catalogue.

Next they kept it all going with the slower paced Boy Who Fooled The World, which since the release of Favourite Pleasures is being called not just one of the best tracks on the album, but one of the best that the band have ever written, and from this display of it who am I to argue with that.

Leaving the new album aside the band then slipped a hand into their back catalogue to give us Crazy You, and while it was warmly received you couldn’t argue that it was embraced with any more gratitude that any of the songs that preceded it which is a good sign in itself.

Better Days was then ushered in to finish of the set, and if anyone was churlishly going to ask for something that could be called a classic GUN track then they would have had to eaten their words with its inclusion.

Three new tracks and two older ones on show and its doubtful that anyone could claim that they had been let down.

And then with the set reaching its conclusion the band left the stage and within minutes were back to sign albums and such.
In an era when VIP tickets to meet a band are fast becoming the norm it is refreshing to see one that is not only happy to meet fans, but also to chat to them and in doing so refuse to let the barrier between fan and artist to be built ever higher. 
Very often it is the little things that matter, and I think they get that.

And I guess now all that is matters for Scottish fans is the Barrowlands gig that is sitting on the horizon, and of course lets not forget that the only natural way to finish a review of any GUN album, gig, or even instore, is to shout out loud and proud ‘Mon the GUN, as they deserve it. 
So ‘Mon the GUN indeed.

Saturday, 16 September 2017


In theatrical circles, both professional and amateur, the term tour de force has become so over used that it barely carries any value.
Over the years it has been with the kindest of intentions falsely attached to everything from Christmas nativity shows starring less than precocious four year olds to the efforts of village hall pensioners revisiting the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.
And as this is most definitely the case it could be easy to dismiss those who are claiming Pylon to be a tour de force as simply reaching for a stock phrase to bandy about.

That would however be a mistake, a large and unforgivable mistake, because 'Pylon' is, to use another well worn phrase, the real deal.

It is theatre that drags the audience in to entertain and inform in equal measure. From passion to professionalism it not only delivers, but punches above its weight class from curtain rise to curtain fall.
It is raw imagination given wings and allowed to lay claim to the sky.  

In casting aside any limitations that could casually be attached to what could be described as amateur dramatics, the performance delivered ultimately leaves glass at the feet of all involved as they smash through a perceived ceiling and arrive in the midst of the professionals who call the arts their stock in trade.

In so many ways the success Pylon has already enjoyed should not be possible.
Considering that it is a theatrical writing debut, and that it is being performed by a cast of local artists; better known for their musical endeavours, then the lack of experience should scream that it will fail, but failure has very obviously never been considered.
Instead this is a production that carries itself with the swagger of having been penned by a well established playwright, and performed by a cast of experienced actors. That in itself is not just impressive, but something that at times is difficult to actually comprehend.
It could be argued that Pylon has no right to be as good as it is, and yet if it was to be placed toe to toe with anything playing in the bigger cities then it would more than hold its own.

Centred around the cancer scare in the nineties that was attributed to electricity pylons weaving their way through the housing scheme of Shortlees in Kilmarnock, the story is gut wrenching in its emotional range, but also laced with enough kitchen sink humour that the darkest moments can be met with a smile.
Reminiscent of a certain type of working class theatre that thumbed its nose at what had come before it is a production that embodies the spirit of the now legendary 7:84 theatre company and its offshoot Wildcat, and it is entirely possible that this play will be seen as the genesis of yet another wave of socially conscious theatre coming our way.

But only if it is seen, and championed by, a wider audience.

And therein lies a problem. That being in how all the funding applications to take Pylon on tour have thus far been unsuccessful.
This rejection must feel like a body blow to those involved, but they should consider what they have already achieved against all the odds, and then take from that the belief that when the curtain went down on the most recent performance that it was only the end to one chapter of this story.

It really shouldn't need to be said, but theatres across Scotland should be looking to support initiatives such as this, and it seems obvious that the Citizens Theatre of Glasgow is the natural home for Pylon.
And maybe it will be.

Who knows.

Watch out for an interview with the people behind Pylon coming soon.

In the interim go and buy a CD direct from the Pylon team from their facebook page.